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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       RONNIE LEET

INTERVIEWER:                   SANDRA BERMAN

DATE:                                  JANUARY 24, 2012

LOCATION:                         SELMA, ALABAMA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Ronnie Leet’s maternal grandparents were from Russia and Poland and his paternal grandparents were from Lithuania.  All came to the United States before World War II.  His maternal grandparents settled in Chicago, where his mother was born, as Harry and Tillie Hackman.  His maternal grandfather went south looking for work, eventually settling in Selma, Alabama and bringing his family down.  They were in the contracting business and then the shoe business.

His paternal grandparents settled in Lakeshore, New Jersey then Detroit, Michigan.  They also had family in Birmingham, Alabama to which they moved as well.  They were in the clothing businesses.  His grandfather eventually settled in Selma, Alabama and went into the used auto parts, scrap metal and welding business.

His parents were Lillian Hackman Leet and Julian Samuel Leet.  They joined the Reform congregation, Temple Mishkan Israel.  The Leets celebrated Jewish holidays at his maternal grandparent’s home but also opened presents on Christmas day, although they did not have a Christmas tree.   Both Ronnie and his sister had Jewish and Christian friends.

Ronnie attended Sunday school and he became bar mitzvah at the Temple.  He was taught by Rabbi Lothair Lubasch.  After his retirement I the mid-1960’s there were no more full-time rabbis as the congregation had grown too small.    

Ronnie was aware that inequalities existed and he had sympathy for black people but at the same time realized that it was the culture and that’s the way it was.  During the active time in Selma Ronnie’s parents were concerned for their family’s safety and the security of their business.  In fact, Ronnie (who was 11 or 12 years old) and his sister witnessed the beginning of the marches but were taken home and locked in by their father for their physical safety.

Ronnie returned to Selma after his education and took over the scrap metal business.  Ronnie and his wife (who is not Jewish) hold seders in their home.   They are part of an effort to save the Temple Mishkan Israel.

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Ronnie discusses his grandparents and parents immigration from Eastern Europe to the United States before World War II and eventual settlement in Selma, Alabama.   He recalls his maternal grandparents’ shoe and clothing store and his paternal grandparent’s auto parts and scrap metal business, which he eventually joined and assumed leadership of after college.

Ronnie remembers Temple Mishkan Israel and growing up in the Reform movement, the celebration of both Hannukah and Christmas as well as the Jewish holidays of Passover and the High Holy Days.  He recalls fondly his religious education by Rabbi Lothair Lubasch and becoming bar mitzvah. 

Ronnie discusses segregation, the cultural acceptance of Jim Crow

KEYWORDS

Auto parts industry and trade

Bar mitzvah

Birmingham, Alabama

Chicago, Illinois

Christmas

Christmas trees

Civil rights movement

Clothing industry and trade

Craig Field—Selma, Alabama

Detroit, Michigan

Ellis Island

Hackman, Harry

Hackman, Tillie (Tybel)

Hannukah

High Holy Days

Immigration

Intermarriage

Jewish-Christian relations

Jews—Relations with blacks

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Judaism—Rites and ceremonies

Judaism, Orthodox

Judiasm, Reform

Lakeshore, New Jersey

Leet, Lillian Hackman

Leet, Julian Samuel

Leet, Ronnie

Lithuania

Lubasch, Lothair (Rabbi)

Passover

Poland

Religious education, Jewish

Russia

Seders

Segregation

Selma, Alabama

Selma-Montgomery marches, 1965

Scrap metal industry and trade

Shoe industry and trade

Sunday school

Temple Mishkan Israel—Selma, Alabama

White Citizens’ Councils

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